Here’s a new credit card fraud gambit that ranks a “10″ on the outrage meter.
A U.S. Secret Service investigation has revealed a string of credit card thefts in Washington, D.C. area restaurants. Waiters at local eateries reportedly stole credit card numbers and used the data to ring up luxurious purchase at elite retailers like Gucci and Barney’s of New York.
In one case, Secret Service investigators arrested Nicole Ward, a waitress at the Cheesecake Factory, on charges of stealing $117,000 from restaurant customers in 2008 and 2009. The Secret Service alleges that Ward was working on behalf of a larger criminal organization that specialized in credit card fraud. The syndicate reportedly paid Ward $40 per stolen card, for a total of about $5,000, the Secret Service said.
Ward’s method was both effective and frightening – especially to any credit card holder. When a diner paid his or her tab with plastic, Ward and two accomplices used electronic ‘skimming’ devices allegedly provided by the credit card fraud outfit that could read and download key credit card data. The syndicate reportedly took the card data and slapped the numbers on fraudulent credit cards and used them to rack up tens of thousands of dollars in bogus purchases.
In 2009, the Secret Service was notified by Citibank that numerous fraudulent charges were showing up on credit cards previously used at the Cheesecake Factory location that employed Ward. From there, it was short work to link Ward and her accomplices to the cards from the employee identification number that was printed on the card receipts.
The new restaurant scam isn’t restricted to Washington, D.C. either. Police reports from New Orleans claim a waitress at a local Bubba Gump Shrimp restaurant sold 50 fraudulently-obtained credit card numbers using the same scam. Police in Buffalo, N.Y. report similar crimes.
The good news is that most restaurants have systems in place – particularly the employee I.D. number that appears on card receipts – to eventually catch up to wayward waiters. But that doesn’t mean you’re out of the woods – a resourceful wait-staffer could still run off and take a picture of your credit card with an illegally-obtained device, or even a simple cell phone.
So this holiday season, be aware of where your credit card goes when it leaves your hands and is hauled away by a waiter or waitress. It could be taking an expensive trip and racking up thousands of dollars in fraudulent credit card charges.